Joe ran...he ran, and ran, and ran...until he could run no more. There, he stopped. Where he stopped, though, was exactly where he had started; he had not really run at all.
Joe sat up in a rush. The rush gave him a headache and a ringing in his ears. Apparently, "where he had stopped" was in his bed, drenched from head to foot and through to the bone. Whether the moisture was from the crazy dream he had just woken from, or from the thick humidity of the Florida Everglades, he could not decipher.
As he stood in the shower with cool water running down his back, he recalled the dream. Just thinking about it made his eyes water and his knees quake.
The mist had swirled, similarly to the steam in the bathroom. Music, naturalistic and eerie, seemed to be conjured of his mind. The scene was a vast swamp of the surrounding Everglades. Masses of Cyprus trees loomed around and in the water, with their huge branches draped and dripping in Spanish moss. The trees blocked out most if the light that was beginning to wane with the falling dusk. The image was more serene than it had seemed at first, not scary as he had assumed. Now, the gradual vanishing of the mist and quieting of the mentally existing music gave way to a woman who emerged from the murky, still water.
Strangely, the water remained still. Not a single disturbance rippled its surface, whether the wind blew or a leaf fell from a tree, or even if an amazing creature rose from its depths.
She stood, arms held away from her body, dresses flowing around her thin frame. She breathed deeply. It was obvious that her nostrils took in the air, but it seemed only to pass right through her. She failed to acknowledge its very presence. Joe let the thought that, maybe, the air had not been something to nourish her as it was to him, a human. This notion was quickly dismissed. She opened her eyes now. They were beautifully frightening, a green as bright as an avocado or an unripe mango still on the tree. They stared, then blinked, and then stared for what seemed an eternity. She blew a cold stream of air from her mouth. The breath was icy cold, frigid, and caused the hair on his neck to stand on end in recollection. Again, her eyes blinked; then stared...a red hibiscus blossom blew down from...somewhere he had not seen...maybe it materialized mysteriously, as everything else seemed to. Anything seemed possible now. However it got there, its vibrant petals among the muted grays and greens and browns of the swamp were startling.
The woman [I'll come up with a name soon!] hand now emerged from the layers and layers of gauzy material that she wore. The hand, though, was mangled. Its fingers were grossly gnarled and their joints swollen, like an old woman's arthritic fingers. They didn't match her face, not the one he remembered at least. But, he looked up, and to his absolute terror, her face, as lovely as it had been, now was beginning to match those awful fingers. It was a melting-like effect, gradually the fair, smooth skin wrinkled and darkened...soon it might turn to strict bone...Joe wouldn't know, for here, he ran.
The water had shut off now. It did that...but only if it was running for a quite long period of time. Now Joe stood in the tile and glass cubicle. The glass was completely fogged over, and Joe snapped out of his thoughtful daze before too long. Now he hurried suddenly remembering school, and jumped out of the shower. He glanced in the mirror...he looked tired and disheveled. He wrapped a towel around his waist and shook some water from his hair. Walking into his bedroom, he tossed a shirt over his head, shoving his arms through the sleeves, and jumped into some dirty pants that were lying on the floor. He walked out of the house, onto the porch.
For a few peaceful seconds, after rushing out of the house, he stood on the screened-in porch on the front of his house. Joe took a few deep breaths with his eyes closed. This, closing his eyes, was a bad idea, for again he was thrown into the dream world of frightening mystical creatures and extreme vividness that he had just returned from a quarter of an hour ago.
Images of the land in front of his swarmed through his mind, but it was a dream...or...no? Joe took a few steps down the stairs, skidded down a few, and stepped down the last four or five. He ran (physically) and as he passed the towering trees and leapt over the gnarly roots, he was not obvious, but felt as if in a trance. He was aware of his actions, but didn't feel that he was in total control of them. Thud, thud, thud, ~leap~, thud, thud...
The path looked familiar...Joe came to a sign, "forbidden" it read. He kept going, not that he wished to. Just ahead was am old dock. He ran to the very end of it and stopped. The swamp that lay ahead of him was the same one from the dream. The water was again still...Joe expected the woman to emerge at any moment now. His legs began to shake and his throat to close up...he wanted to run, but could not, no matter what effort he put forth. He just stood...nothing happened...calming down, Joe thought he might leave, but still, he could not make himself. He decided to sit. The sun rose higher bringing slight amounts of light through the trees. The warm beams shown across various places in the water. Small pieces of dust glinted in the light. One beam fell on Joe's face. The light reflected the sliver flecks in his blue eyes, and made his dark hair shine...He leaned back on the cool wood. Cool, for the sun had not even risen above the tree tops; the day would remain cool for a while longer. One hand lay over his forehead as he looked up at the stringy moss, thinking about its relatedness to the pineapple. He listened to the birds as the wind ruffled his hair. Quietly, he drifted off into a light sleep.
Joe wasn't running anymore. He was simply standing in a slight hollow on the path. He could see his house distantly, just the roof, but he wasn't sure where he was. He was breathing extremely hard, his chest heaving, accompanied by vicious pants. Bent at the waist, he continued to struggle; it seemed not to get any easier to breathe.
He straightened himself out and attempted to breathe normally; it wasn't a complete failure. Stretching, he looked around, unsure of where he was. He couldn't see the house anymore...the earth began to spin, swirls of green and white light surrounded him. When the earth stopped spinning, or to him at least, there in front of him was the swamp. The woman stood in the water still. She was neither as she was supposed to be, nor as she was when he last saw her, but neither did he wish to see. She stood with such a blank look on her face, such a diluted spirit in her. Not a glimpse of life was in her eyes. She seemed not to be real anymore, so...empty, dead...although...she never seemed to have any sort of _human_ life...but there was an allure that let him tryst her, let him be drawn to her. It was gone...but still she was attached to her. She was empty...she did still have the same physical appearance; the difference was maybe more sensed. This change scared Joe. He wanted to run again, but he couldn't run this time. She stretched her arm out, exposing her hand again. It was not gnarled this time; it was smooth and young, pale and fine. Joe wanted to touch that hand so badly...he reached and reached, but the attempt was futile...yet he kept reaching...
Now she spoke. The cold air came from the part in her lips again, but rather than chilling him, it warmed him...ugh...confused again...but it felt so cool, the strange sensation...more was still to come...
The words that she produced were not in any language that he had heard, or even dreamed of before. The words, or the sounds, formed a soothing song, a luring song. Slowly, Joe walked closer to her, very slowly, for he was still worried that she would crumble before his eyes...
As he drew nearer, he was overcome by the warm-chilling sensation and a blanket of the drowsy music. He reached for her hand. She took his large one in her thin, delicate ones, and clasped her long, cold fingers around it. There was a slight pressure present that only gradually became noticeable, for it increased so slightly. Finally, Joe noticed that her fingernails were digging into his palm, breaking the skin in little crescent shaped cuts. Small droplets of blood pooled in the cuts, but rather than flinching or panicking, Joe observed in quiet horror.
Now, when Joe couldn't possibly save himself from the woman's grasp...her eyes lit up. She pulled slightly at Joe, possibly to test what resistance he might provide (very little), then gently, but forcefully, pulled Joe into the water. Joe, still, not rigid, fell in with a limp dive. He didn't make a splash...The woman smiled at her success, light was restored to her eyes, and she emerged fully from the water. Her skirts were now wet...soiled...the hems tattered and the lace frayed. Her dusky blonde tresses hung in tangled strings and her bright eyes peered out beyond the deep recessions they rested in.
Suddenly, a horrific look overcame her face leading to a silent scream. She did not crumble this time, but was an explosion of light...leaving the swamp still and quiet without the presence of the swamp goddess-figure or Joe.
Joe woke. In, again, a trance-like state, he practically drifted to a sitting position, looked around, re-alerting his senses of their surroundings, and continued to a standing position in one fluid motion. He continued, stepping forward to the very edge of the dock. Joe took a deep breath and fell in, effortlessly. The water did splash slightly this time, and this splash was followed by a quiet gurgle. After* this was the quietest, eeriest silence the Florida Everglades had ever heard...